Turns out we were right.
Lady Antebellum, which Billboard tipped as an artist to watch two years ago, closes this year as the hottest act in country music -- and beyond.
The trio -- Charles Kelley, Hillary Scott and Dave Haywood -- leads several of Billboard's country and pop year-end tallies. The year-end music recaps are based on chart performance during the chart year that began with last year's Dec. 5 issue and ended with the Nov. 27, 2010, issue.
The group, which formed in 2006 and has scored honors from the Country Music Assn. (CMA), the Academy of Country Music and the Grammy Awards, has taken country by storm and quickly spread its proverbial wings into pop formats with success.
Lady Antebellum is No. 1 on the Top Country Album Artists chart (besting Taylor Swift, no less), the Top Country Albums recap with "Need You Now" (Capitol Nashville), the Hot Country Songs Artists tally, the Country Digital Songs recap with the title track from "Need You Now" and the overall Top Country Artists recap.
But that's not all. The group also leads pop recaps including Top Artists-Duo/Group and Top Billboard 200 Artists-Duo/Group.
Kelley, Scott and Haywood also either wrote or co-wrote a number of songs on both of their albums and served as co-producers with Paul Worley on their sophomore effort, which was released Jan. 26 and scanned 481,000 copies in its first week, according to Nielsen SoundScan. The album topped the Billboard 200 and spawned three No. 1s on Hot Country Songs: "Need You Now," "American Honey" and "Our Kind of Love."
The year-end recaps of Top Country Album Artists and Hot Country Songs Artists reflect the current changing of the guard in country music. The top 10 acts at the upper reaches of the former tally include Lady Antebellum, Taylor Swift, the Zac Brown Band, Carrie Underwood, Miranda Lambert and Jason Aldean. Of those, only Lambert had released a major-label single before 2005.
On the Hot Country Songs Artists year-end chart, Lady Antebellum, Underwood, the Zac Brown Band, Aldean, Lambert and Luke Bryan account for six of the top 10.
The combined sales and airplay tally tells a similar tale with Lady Antebellum, Swift, the Zac Brown Band, Underwood and Lambert leading the way.
Perhaps not surprisingly, given their relative youth, country's next wave dominates the digital sales charts as well. Swift, Lady Antebellum, the Zac Brown Band, Underwood and Aldean, respectively, are the top five Country Digital Songs Artists. In fact, not one old-school artist (in this case, someone who broke out in the late '90s or earlier) is in the top 10 on that recap.
Capitol Nashville's Lady Antebellum and Big Machine's Swift garnered four of the top 10 Country Digital Songs titles. "Need You Now" takes No. 1 for Lady Antebellum, while Swift's "Mine" and "Today Was a Fairytale" come in at Nos. 2 and 3, with Lady Antebellum's "American Honey" ranking at No. 7. Jaron & the Long Road to Love, aka Jaron Lowenstein of pop duo Evan & Jaron, landed his tongue-in-cheek "Pray for You" (Jaronwood/Universal/Big Machine) at No. 5 on the digital recap.
The new wave of country artists was similarly rewarded at the recent CMA Awards. Lambert took home three awards, including album and female vocalist of the year, while her fiancee, Blake Shelton, scored male vocalist and vocal event awards. The trophies were the first CMA Awards for Lambert and Shelton. Lady Antebellum nabbed single and vocal group honors. In all, these acts grabbed seven of the 11 awards they were eligible for.
Perhaps, given the song's hard-to-believe staying power, it's not surprising that Lee Brice's "Love Like Crazy" (Curb), which spent 56 record-breaking weeks on the Hot Country Songs chart, is No. 1 on the year-end Hot Country Songs recap. The song bested the 54-week stay of Eddy Arnold's "Bouquet of Roses," which debuted the week of May 15, 1948, and reigned for 19 weeks at No. 1.
Luke Bryan's "Rain Is a Good Thing" (Capitol Nashville) placed No. 2 for the year, and Josh Turner's "Why Don't We Just Dance" (MCA Nashville) finished No. 3 on the Hot Country Songs recap.
Thanks to the success of Lady Antebellum and its labelmates, Capitol Nashville closes the year at No. 1 on the Top Country Album Imprints chart, the Top Country Album Labels recap, the Hot Country Songs Labels chart and the Hot Country Songs Imprints recap. Capitol Nashville has steadily grown in the past decade and is now leading categories that Sony's Nashville division once dominated.
Meanwhile, Universal is No. 1 on the Top Country Album Distributors recap, followed by EMI Music Media and Sony Music.
Frank Rogers, who works with Brad Paisley and Darius Rucker, tops the Hot Country Songs Producers tally, followed closely by Dann Huff (Keith Urban, Rascal Flatts), who not long ago scored a top 10 rock hit as a member of Giant. Michael Knox (Jason Aldean), Keith Stegall (Alan Jackson, the Zac Brown Band) and Mark Bright (Carrie Underwood) round out the top five.
In a number of cases, the weekly charts in the final quarter of 2010 portend the 2011 year-end results. Acts including Swift (whose "Speak Now" album sold more than 1 million copies in its debut week, according to Nielsen SoundScan), Aldean (whose "My Kinda Party" recently debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 and Top Country Albums) and the Zac Brown Band (whose latest set "You Get What You Give" was released in September and topped both the Billboard 200 and Top Country Albums) should remain top of mind in the coming year. Lady Antebellum, Bryan and Lambert will likely return with new albums and be right back in the thick of it in 2011.